facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

#aiww: The Arrest Of Ai Weiwei

First Published 18 April 2013, Last Updated 18 April 2013

While many people would consider a black circle on a white background and a tent appliqued with names of a woman’s sleeping partners to be crimes against art, you didn’t see Kazimir Malevich or Tracey Emin arrested for their creations. Had they been Chinese citizens like Ai Weiwei – the artist at the centre of the Hampstead theatre’s current production – perhaps they might not have been so fortunate.

Marking Howard Brenton’s return to the Hampstead theatre following his 2012 hit 55 Days, the playwright’s new play #aiww: The Arrest Of Ai Weiwei tells the true story of the contemporary Chinese artist who was arrested at Beijing airport in 2011 and branded a conman, a liar and a bigamist by the country’s authorities. Guilty only of creating pieces of art from a smashed up pile of furniture and clay sunflower seeds then selling them for extortionate prices, Weiwei is incarcerated for a reason entirely unbeknown to him… and us.

Each room in which the artist finds himself imprisoned is enclosed within a rectangular crate, confining the action to a small central section of the stage, like a work of art displayed against a vast white backdrop, with a large handful of individuals – a combination of actors and the stage management team – admiring the piece from the sides like members of the public at an art gallery.

Days, weeks and months pass and Weiwei remains in his wooden cage, handcuffed to a chair and responding to orders given by aggressive soldiers. Murder detectives come and go in an attempt to force a confession, but in reality the artist’s only crimes are making a killing from his abstract works of art and assassinating the Chinese government on social media.

Benjamin Wong – who bears an uncanny resemblance to the artist – gives an admirable performance as Weiwei, interweaving passionate orations about the value of art and freedom of speech with a boiling frustration that wears away his patience and sanity.

James Macdonald’s production receives flickers of comedy – and later compassion – from Andrew Koji and Christopher Goh as Weiwei’s disinterested guards, who spend more time on their phones than they do intimidating the artist, but are ultimately conveyed as captives themselves. David Lee-Jones and Orion Lee as the inquiring detectives undergo a heartening transformation throughout the play, evolving from hostile interrogators to sympathetic allies as they share Chinese cooking tips and begin to appreciate the message Weiwei is trying to convey through his art.

While Weiwei was unable to see his story told on stage at the Hampstead theatre last night, owing to that fact that his passport is still yet to be returned to him, he will be able to watch #aiww: The Arrest Of Ai Weiwei along with the rest of the world when it is streamed live on Friday via the Hampstead theatre website.

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.